Massage with a Fish and a Twist

I have a thing about massages. I don’t like to get them from guys. It kinda creeps me out.

But that has been overridden by fish. Dr. Fish Foot Massage, to be exact.

In Cambodia, fish massage is all the rage. Walk along any pedestrian street, and you will see huge tanks of small to medium sized fish, with a wide, wooden plank border around the top of the tank. That is where you sit and put your feet in the tank. The fish swarm you feet, nibbling away all the dead skin. Presumably, this is a massage.

I said nope, I’m not doing that. But of course, who can really say no in the end? Especially when your 13-year old daughter is egging you on, and your sister.

Up we plopped onto the platform. We delicately placed one foot, just a little bit of it, into the water. The small fish immediately swarmed. I screamed and jerked my foot out. Then, peer pressure prevailed and I put my one foot back in.

I longingly looked over to the rows of chaise lounges on the sidewalk next to us. How normal it was over there, with people getting foot massages by humans instead of fish. Oh, except that the chaise lounges sit on a sidewalk surrounded by shops, restaurants and tons of people milling around. But other than that, totally normal.

Gracie and Michelle stick their other foot in the fish tank. Ok, fine. I put both feet in. But when those fish started nibbling on me I thought I would jump out of my skin. I lasted a whole 30 seconds. Out of the water came my feet, and they weren’t going back in. The man said,”You go back in. You already pay $3.” Um, you can keep the $3.

Gracie and Moozie only got more brave after my abrupt departure. They picked up their feet, circled around while still sitting, and put them in the bigger fish tank behind them. The one with the bigger fish. I was totally creeped out, but they were loving it. A lot. They stayed in there for a half hour.

While they got nibbled, I went next door and booked 3 spots for regular human foot massages.

Finally, it’s time to lay down in front of packs of tourists and take our spots on the chaise lounges. $2 for a 30-minute foot massage. Total bargain.

Guess what? I get a guy assigned to me as my masseuse. Really? First fish, and now a guy? Can massage get any creepier?

I lay there gazing up at the restaurant on the second floor, across the street. What a great view for dinner, I thought. I wanted to wiggle my toes and wave at the diners, but thought they might choke on their Pad Thai noodles.

Michelle had to explain to her masseuse (also a guy) not to touch her big, bandaged toe (remember she had her toenail removed in the Bangkok hospital). Luckily she remembered not to stick that thing in the fish tank.

Gracie got the girl masseuse, lucky dog. And once the massages started, so did the giggles. At how good it felt, and at how ridiculous it is to be laying on a chaise lounge on a sidewalk while people order up fried rice, ice cream cones, or pastries in the presence of our feet.

It was the best $2 I ever spent in my life.

So when we landed in Thailand, we had our sights set on a genuine Thai massage, although I didn’t really know what that was.

Just down the dusty dirt road from our hotel is a little massage shop. We’d walked by it a couple of times, and had always seen the same 2 ladies outside. So the next day Michelle and I ventured inside.

The 2 ladies greeted us. The one in charge explained the variety of massages available. $10 for one hour. At that price I don’t care what type of massage I get.

We opt in for the Thai massage. We explain Michelle’s big toe problem. We show the ladies our sunburned chests, which sport the red color of Christmas.

The ladies lead us 3 paces to the massage room. Ok, it’s not a room. Anyone walking by could have gotten a fantastic view of our sunburned bodies while we stripped down to our skivvies.

Luckily, they finally pulled a curtain between us and the street traffic. And by “traffic” I mean the sum total of 6 tourists that saunter by in an hour.

There were 2 futon-ish mattresses on the floor with fresh linens which they changed when we arrived. Michelle and I laid down head to head. I was ready.

The massage ladies took their positions. Except when I heard my massage lady speak, the voice was much too husky to be a lady. Michelle and I had kinda noticed this right before we laid down, and stared at each other with the kind of look you can only give your sister at a time like that.

You already know how I feel about getting a massage from a guy. And now I was going to get a whole hour of it. With my whole body. With he/she.

The massage begins. What you should know (because I certainly didn’t) is that Thai massage involves a lot of pressure, stretching and pulling. Basically, it is involuntary yoga. You lay relaxed on a mat, and they move your body into incomprehensible yoga moves that you would never try if you signed up for a yoga class yourself.

When I laid face down, it actually felt kinda good. After 30 minutes I flipped over to the front. And the stretching… wowza! When it got to the inner hip area, I clearly remembered why I am creeped out by getting a massage from a guy. Well, I think it’s a guy, but I tell myself it’s a girl. Over and over. Because I am face to face now and this certainly looks like a girl.

It’s time for the neck and chest massage part of the regimen. I re-explain the sunburned chest. A generous supply of luxurious aloe vera cream is rubbed on. Ahh, it feels so cool. And at that moment I feel grateful for my very own breasts, safely tucked under the covers, because here is someone who probably wants some of their own, and yet I’ve nearly burned mine off this week in the sun.

Then I am slathered with lotion that smells exactly like wintergreen lifesavers. I fully expect to look up and see a small child in the back room unwrapping rolls of lifesavers and grinding them into a lotion paste.

Michelle is having her own special massage experience. Shortly after her massage begins, the lady makes a cell phone call while giving Michelle her massage.

Two minutes later another woman appears at the shop with hair that says, “I hurried over here as fast as I could on my moped without a helmet.”

She silently walks over to Michelle. And before Michelle knew it, “I had one set of hands going up my back, and another set of hands going down my back.”

At the end of the session I get a wickedly good back massage for the kink in my shoulder and neck. This is carnage from the outrageously thick, stiff pillows that Thai hotels love to give you.

And then I realize there is a real upside to my massage today. I had a very beautiful masseuse with exceptionally strong hands.

I think I’ll go back tomorrow for another.


Disaster in my Island Hut Bathroom

Big, booming claps of thunder wake me up at 5:00 am this morning, punctuated by lightning that flashes through my all-too-thin window drapes, even though it is pitch dark outside. The monsoonal rains feel as though they will crash through my bungalow roof with ease at any moment. Where is my tropical Thai Island paradise?

Wide awake, I get up to go to the bathroom, without my glasses (never a good idea) and without turning on the light so I won’t wake up Gracie.

When I realize we are out of toilet paper, I grope unsuccessfully in the dark without leaving my “seat,” for the extra roll I know is somewhere in this bathroom. I can’t find it.

Fine. I will use the bathroom sprayer thingy then. But when I grab for it, the nozzle disconnects and water starts spraying everywhere. It doesn’t take but 2 seconds to realize I now have a monsoon inside and outside my hut.

I try to shove the nozzle back on, in the dark, but can’t. It’s like trying to put a nozzle on a hose that’s on full blast. Immense volumes of spaztic water gush forth all over me and the bathroom floor, walls, door, sink.

I need to turn on the light, but I can’t reach it without letting go of the water tube and nozzle. When I do finally let go, it’s like a “Crazy Daisy” sprayer, the kind you have in your yard outside when you’re a kid.

The water tube gyrates all over the bathroom as I try to find the light switch. I use the Braille system and finally locate it far from the place where I remembered it to be.

Now I can clearly see this disaster in the making, even without my glasses. The first thing I spot is the extra roll of toilet paper, now soggy. I am so in trouble here. I contemplate turning the light back off.

Instead I hold the nozzle to the free-flowing water tube as firmly as I can. I flush the toilet thinking maybe that will make the water pressure subside and then I can just stand there flushing the toilet for the next 4 hours until Gracie wakes up and runs for help.

The toilet flushes fine but the water pressure remains the same. Down on my knees I go, one hand holding the Crazy Daisy and simultaneously trying to push the nozzle back on, water spraying me in the face and everywhere else, and the other hand feeling for a valve or a knob to turn off the water supply. None exists.

I have got to stop this flow of water somehow. If I can get the water tube to the sink or to the shower that will work. But the tube is too short to reach that far. And now the nozzle falls off completely into the toilet. I see the little black washer, which should be firmly inside the nozzle, floating in the toilet. I stand there holding the eternally-flowing water tube.

I stick the tube into the toilet bowl. This isn’t much of a solution, I think. But it does stop the water from gushing everywhere momentarily.

And then an interesting thing happens – as though everything before this hasn’t been interesting. Just before I think the toilet will overflow because the water tube is pumping an extra 500 gallons of water per minute into it, the toilet kinda self flushes.

I stand there for a moment bewildered. I check the “water security” of the bathroom. I spot a drain in the floor and a good sized lip by the door which will prevent any water from going into the other parts of the room, since I’m on my way to recreating Noah’s flood here.

I wait for the toilet bowl to re-fill and then, amazingly, it does not overflow. Ever. Even with my super-charged water tube adding to its water supply in voluminous ways.

This is a ray of hope! I watch for another 5 minutes, position the tube securely under the toilet seat and firmly inside the toilet bowl. I go back to bed and check the “situation” every 30 minutes. Unbelievably all is well.

Finally at 8 am, I go to the front desk, explaining my situation to Thai hotel staff members who speak barely a lick of English.

I say very slowly, “I have a problem with my toilet.” She looks at me quizzically. I say, “Problem. Toilet.” She tries to mouth the words back to me. She doesn’t know the word ‘problem.’

She gets another co-worker. I explain the situation by displaying vividly wild hand gestures and imitating gushing water sounds. “PSHSHSHSH!” I draw on all my thespian skills for this dramatic performance.

Her eyes get very big. Yes, she understands. They send someone immediately who turns off the water from a valve somewhere outside, then installs a brand new sprayer and hose for me.

It’s all fixed now.

Like I’m ever going to use that thing again! In the dark. Without my glasses.

Gracie’s blog:
Zack’s blog:

The laundry that will not dry

When you set out to travel for months instead of a week, backpack space is very precious and determines just how many pairs of undies, socks, and pants you can bring. And what I realized early on in this trip is the the alarming rate at which these things become dirty. Times that by a family of 4 and suddenly you are undone by laundry.

No surprise that It becomes mandatory to find accommodations that come with a washer and dryer. Then I remembered I was in Europe, and it became mandatory that I had a washer – and I’d pray for a dryer. Apparently I need to step up my prayer life.

To even get a washer is a boon — it beats hand-washing in the sink by a mile. Oh yeah, I’ve done some of that. But we’ve landed in a couple of places where the laundry simply will not dry.

First among them, Venice. But why? The weather was warm and perfectly moderate. The first night we needed to wash everything. I ran one load. I opened the teeny plastic lid on the washer. I unfastened the teeny metal basket inside. I loaded the clothes. I added detergent, and pushed the proper buttons.

It was late at night, but I needed the laundry to finish before I fell asleep so that I could hang it out to dry. This is why no one in Europe does laundry at night.

The washer wouldn’t stop. Literally. It ran and ran and ran until finally at 1:30 am Curtis managed to pry open the lid without breaking it, and keep it from going round and round. The laundry sat in a small pool of water all night.

In the morning I wrung out the clothes by hand, then again with my handy-dandy microfleece bath towels (thank you REI). This didn’t stop me from putting another load in the laundry, believing somehow it would work perfectly this time.

I hung the first load of clothes on the clothes line in the bathroom. I hung the rest all around the apartment, anything with enough room to dangle a sock from.

Not to bother. It was warm, and we would be out all day in the canals of Venice. Everything would be dry when we returned.

Imagine my surprise when we returned that night and nothing was dry. Or even drier. The only thing that had happened all day in that apartment was that the IKEA laminated press-board shelves started to warp where I hung the socks.

And the washer was still running from the morning. That’s 8+ hours of going round and round. I busted into it this time, finding the clothes sitting in a full pool of water. Back to the wringing routine. I got a blister on my hand. I need to do more manual labor in my life.

I hung the second load of laundry out to dry, finding drying places on door handles, the refrigerator, the bunk beds, the bars on the windows, the metal shelf hooks holding up the now-warped IKEA shelves. I would’ve hung laundry on the kids if they’d stood still.

Surely items will be dry by morning. I awoke the next morning to almost completely soggy clothes. What in the world?

Thank God we were in Venice for 5 days. It took all of 5 days for that first load to dry. That second load never did dry, and I just packed it up and took it to Milan.

The other place where laundry will not dry? Rome. Perfect in every other way, except laundry drying. At least in Rome I had a large, plastic drying rack with plenty of clothes pins, perfectly set up on our roomy outdoor balcony. The temps were idyllic for clothes drying, or so I thought.

I hung out every piece of clothing we had. The kids donned my clothes since every stitch of their wardrobe was in the wash. Nothing will make you chuckle harder than seeing your daughter dressed baggily in your pants and dress, and your son in your too short white v-necked t-shirt and yoga pants with wide purple trim at the waist.

Optimistically I hung out those clothes. And in the morning, still only a minor improvement in the wetness factor. I flipped all the clothes like pancakes for the next 4 days. I perfectly positioned them on the drying rack. I took pains to create the best free-flowing breeze zone on the balcony.

My efforts yielded very slow, deliberate drying efforts. Eventually they did dry, and I lay exhausted on the bed, realizing it was time to do another load.

How it made me long for Budapest and Wini the laundry queen. Before I could even make a pile of dirty clothes my good friend was putting them in the washer and loading them in the dryer before I knew the wash cycle was finished. If I could’ve packed her in my pocket for the rest of this journey, I would have.

I’m happy to report that my laundry situation has since improved dramatically. In Lucca, Italy I was privy to the most amazing machine, a 2-in-1 washer/dryer combo. Yep, a machine that washed and dried the clothes all in one. Pure heaven. It took 90 minutes to wash and 3 hours to dry a load, but I didn’t have to touch it.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better than that, I landed in Singapore at Cheryl’s condo on the 15th floor with a killer view, and a live-in housekeeper named Edith. God bless her soul, she washed, dried and ironed our clothes all in one day. I felt like bowing and kissing her feet.

Now we head to Thailand and Cambodia where Lord only knows what awaits my dirty clothes.